A cappella music has a long and storied history throughout the world. From Gregorian chants to Renaissance madrigals and contemporary American jazz, the blending of voices unaccompanied by music has mesmerized audiences for centuries. And one modern-day vocal group in particular—the Voices of Liberty—carries on the world’s tuneful tradition marvelously at Disney parks!
Nearly 30 years ago, an eight-person a cappella group called the Voices of Liberty started entertaining audiences at Epcot’s American Adventure Pavilion at Walt Disney World. The grand rotunda of the Pavilion was acoustically perfect for their intricate harmonies on time-honored American standards like “Amazing Grace,” “Ol’ Man River,” and “Yankee Doodle.” Currently, the colonially clad Voices of Liberty—known as “the United States vocal ambassadors to the world”—delights Epcot guests several times a day and has become a beloved attraction in its own right.
One might be surprised to learn that Voices of Liberty had only been seen regularly at the time of its inception at Epcot. But that all changed on June 15, when Disneyland welcomed its very own Voices of Liberty group for the first time. The singers now entertain guests as a pre-show to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at the Main Street Opera House, and will do so until late this summer.
D23 recently talked to Alan Bruun, creative director, Disneyland Resort, about the Voices of Liberty and its Disneyland debut. “This was an idea whose time had come,” Alan says. “We knew we would be very busy at both parks this summer—with the re-launch of Disney California Adventure—so it was an ideal time to bring one of the most cherished musical groups in all of Disney to Disneyland.”
The Voices of Liberty attracts singers of the highest caliber, and all must audition—like any Disney Parks performer—for one of the coveted spots. Tryouts for the Disneyland version were no exception. “The auditions were great,” Alan says. “Many singers in the Los Angeles area were aware of the history of Voices of Liberty, and hundreds of talented people auditioned.” Did they look for a specific kind of performer? Explains Alan, “The sound is very precise, and superb singers are required.” It took two full days for Alan and his team to cast Disneyland’s Voices of Liberty.
Helping Alan to recreate the success of Voices of Liberty for Southern California are two alumni of the Walt Disney World troupe: show director Dimitri Toscas and musical director Tony DeRosa, both of whom sang with Voices of Liberty in the late 1990s. In fact, Tony’s been the musical director for the Epcot group since 2006. Alan admits it was important to have their know-how from the very beginning: “In order to have the right look, sound, and character for the group, we wanted to make sure we tapped into the experts… so we knew we had the ‘dream team’ when it came to creating the group fresh.”
As for the “home base” of Disneyland’s Voice of Liberty, there probably wasn’t a better location to choose than the Main Street Opera House and its presidential pedigree. Walt Disney, known for his love of all things “Americana,” originally created Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln for the 1964 New York World’s Fair—opening it at Disneyland a year later to give Park guests a chance to see history come alive. “We felt that the [Opera House] was the perfect setting,” says Alan, “and tying in to the American heritage of [President] Lincoln was a match made in heaven.”
Are there any differences between the Epcot and Disneyland versions of the vocal group? As Alan explains, “We have tried to make the [Disneyland] Voices of Liberty more personable, and everyone in the group gets involved in telling the stories of the songs. It’s a bit more fun-loving and informal. The sound, look, and repertoire are all the same, though.”
As a former show director of the yearly Candlelight Processional at Walt Disney World, Alan had seen and heard the Voices of Liberty (who play a major role in the show) countless times—and they consistently won him over with their unique song stylings. “I have always been impressed by their beautiful ensemble and the amazing arrangements,” he says. “I think when people hear the sound of those voices singing in perfect harmony, it will give them goose bumps!”
Ultimately, Alan wants to make sure Disneyland guests get the chance to see Voices of Liberty while they still can—as of this writing, the group is scheduled to take their final bow in mid-September. Says Alan, “We at Disneyland are very proud to have Voices of Liberty here on Main Street for the summer—it will be very sad to see them depart… Don’t miss this stunning group!”
By D23′s Courtney Potter